A most important ruling, and one which nearly concerns the Pnrliumeutnr.v freedom of debate, has Procedure, lately been given by the Speaker of the House of Commons. It appears that the debate on the Address in-Reply was closed in a most summary manner, and, so far as can be gleaned from newspaper reports, without any sufficient cause. There was no charge of obstruction, but the Government held that enough time had been devoted to speechifying, and the House agreed with them. Five days had been given for this purpose, and no more, it was said, could be allotted to the subject. Considering the importance of the debate, this seems scarcely fair to so large an assemblage as composes the House of Commons. But the closure was voted, and the debate came to an untimely end. Had this been all, perhaps no great harm would have been done; but the Speaker ruled “ that, as “ the House had voted the closure, “it must be held to desire that the “ main question should be put, and “ that the vote did not, as was con- “ tended, refer only to the amendment “ which was under debate.” The result was that several other amendments that members intended to move after the first had been disposed of were shut out. We are told that some angry protests were made against this ruling, but the Speaker was firm and declined to alter or vary his decision. It is now, therefore, an inexorable rule of debate that when once the closure has been voted all amendments are set aside, and the issue must at once be taken on the original question. Several attempts have been made to introduce the closure rules into the New Zealand Parliament, and it is alleged that there is a majority in favor of their adoption. Certainly it is feared that such is the case ; for in every instance when the question has been brought up sufficient members leave the House to reduce its numerical strength below the proportion necessary for any revision of the rules by which the proceedings of the Representative Chamber are governed. It is customary here for the practice of the House of Commons and the decisions of its Speakers to be accepted as an unimpugnable authority; but if the closure is ever adopted, care should be taken to secure freedom of debate. The imperative closure was intended to curb the unbridled licentiousness of speech in which some members of the House of Commons indulged ; but it is easy to perceive that very great evils may be brought about by shutting out all amendments after the first that may be proposed has been talked out. Nothing would be more easy than to prevent a most important subject being discussed by intercepting it with a bogus amendment, and then demanding that the closure should be applied. It is not uncommon even now for Ministries to stave off the consideration of matters of vital interest by prompting a partisan to bring in very absurd amendments, taking care to be the first to “catch the Speaker’s eye,” And in the shape the question is put from the chair—“ That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question”
—the House is, even now, constrained so to vote that if the motion is carried in that form no other amendment can be proposed at the same sitting. It is remarkable that wherever democracy is in the ascendant the closure is eagerly adopted. It is felt that there must bo some protection against merciless talkers, and talkers “ against time,” whose only object is the Unworthy One of tiring out the other side. There are those, however, who cherish this privilege as the protection of the minority, forgetting that if minorities ruled they would not be in a position to require such protection in the House.
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Evening Star, Evening Star, Issue 7912, 21 May 1889
Evening Star Evening Star, Issue 7912, 21 May 1889
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